"My own personal goal is to help people help themselves and the way to do that is through education."
-Sister Margaret McDermott
For the past 38 years, Dominican Sister Margaret McDermott has been giving the gift of education to the Northwest Bronx community as Executive Director of the Tolentine Zeiser Community Life Center. Sister Margaret, known as Sister Maggie, has been the catalyst for growing the Tolentine Zeiser Community into the umbrella organization for Day Care, Universal Pre-Kindergarten, Siena House, St. Rita’s Immigration Center, Paradise Transitional Housing, Susan’s Place and the Sammon Build Center, where the Dominican Sisters of Blauvelt minister.
While all of these offerings serve the children, homeless men and women, single mothers, immigrants and persons with HIV/AIDS in the Bronx; the Day Care and Universal Pre-Kindergarten have especially been substantial for the community due to the increasing costs of child care. Parents, who send their children to Day Care or Universal Pre-Kindergarten are required to be working full-time or enrolled in an accredited education institution. They pay a small weekly fee and their children are provided with an early childhood curriculum which includes language development, basic reading and mathematics skills, along with breakfast, hot lunch and snack during the day. Many are often surprised when they find out that the early childhood curriculum does not include religious subjects.
Sister Maggie explains, “We don’t teach religion here. We try to show a good example but we are not connected to the church. Most people think it’s a Catholic School and it is not a Catholic School. I just happen to be a Sister.” For Sister Maggie, her ministry in the Day Care and Universal Pre-Kindergarten is especially meaningful since she was a student in Tolentine Elementary School. This led her to become a Dominican Sister of Blauvelt in 1964. “The sisters (who taught me) were always there to help everybody and I wanted to be like that. They are dedicated to helping others and it gave me joy to be like them.” That joy and mentality has benefited the Day Care and Universal Pre-Kindergarten programs greatly as Sister Maggie credits their growth due to word of mouth. Many of the families of children who attended Day Care and Universal Pre-Kindergarten at Tolentine Zeiser still keep in contact with Sister Maggie. One of the most rewarding aspects of her Executive Director role is when parents come back with their children to Sister Maggie about their achievements and other milestones. “I think we are a sign of hope to the people in the area. That they feel confident to come and share their life with us. We listen to them and help in any way that we can and I think that lifts their spirits up that in turn helps their children because their joy it is passed on to them. I think that the greatest gift I can give, the gift of joy and reward.” To learn more about the Tolentine Zeiser Community Life Center, you can visit their website.